Cardiff Blues A 28-47 Leinster A

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Cardiff Blues A suffered defeat at the hands of reigning champions Leinster A in the first game of the 2019 Celtic Cup competition.

With the majority of the first and senior academy team off for the week, and the Irish side bringing over a young squad due to sending a number of players being with the national team and those left behind taking on Canada, it was a Cardiff Blues team made up mostly of Indigo Group Premiership players.

Coaches Gethin Jenkins and T Rhys Thomas opted for 13 Cardiff RFC and four Pontypridd RFC players, who were complimented by five players from the Cardiff Blues setup and one from the Wales Sevens squad.

Things started well for the hosts as they pressured in the Leinster 22, but quickly it started to show that this was, for all intents and purposes, a scratch team.

First it was obvious in attack, as passes didn’t go to hand causing a try scoring opportunity to go to waste with Alex Knott running a trademark angle from outside centre, before set piece frailties showed when an overthrown defensive lineout was snaffled by the visitors for the first try of the game.

Then finally in defence, which couldn’t react quickly enough to a fluid and cohesive Leinster attack that wore down the hosts and won penalty after penalty, before crossing for a second try under the posts for a 0-12 lead.

Despite being a much younger side in terms of average age, the Irish side’s experience of playing together and in a professional environment saw them streets ahead of Cardiff Blues, who were stung by the early loss of co-captain Tom Habberfield to injury, shipping another try in the process.

There was some hope, when Edd Howley was involved in key plays at both end of the field, making a try saving interception before linking up with Ioan Davies in attack, but the latter was bundled into touch just a few yards short of the try line.

Edd Howley Leinster A Celtic Cup

A 0-19 half-time deficit was an uphill struggle, made practically impossible when Leinster scored twice shortly after the break, thanks to more suspect defending and then a scrum that was pushed back for a penalty try.

However, having regathered themselves, Cardiff Blues showed some admirable fight.

First Jamie Hill, playing his first game for six months, threw a beautifully weighted wide pass for Howley to score, before hooker Cam Lewis was in possession as a driving maul was pushed over the line, Ben Jones converting twice.

Unfortunately Leinster responded to both scores quickly with further tries of their own to take away any outside chance of a comeback, but a second driving maul and a strong run from replacement centre Barney Nightingale saw the hosts to four tries on the day.

Some strong try line defence kept Leinster out at the end, meaning Cardiff Blues finished much stronger than they started and drew the second half 28-28, but the final scoreline did indeed stand at 28-47.

Flashes of quality from the team, but ultimately a reminder of why the Premiership Select XVs in the British and Irish Cup didn’t work, even when given a professional setup for the week.

Callum Bradbury, Zach O’Driscoll, Alex Knott and Edd Howley all made noticeable contributions from the semi-professional setup, while Cam Lewis, Jamie Hill and Ioan Davies were impressive from the academy players, but it wasn’t quite enough on the day.

As the weeks roll on we now expect more academy players to return to the team next week, along with one or two fringe first team players, as Gethin Jenkins and T Rhys Thomas take the side to Ulster next Saturday evening.

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